Tarasenko is playing a key role for Florida after winning the Stanley Cup with St. Louis in 2019

Tarasenko is playing a key role for Florida after winning the Stanley Cup with St. Louis in 2019

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Minutes after winning Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final to move to the verge of a second championship in six years, Vladimir Tarasenko had no interest in revisiting the events that occurred on the ice.

“The game is over,” he said. “There is no need to talk about it.”

On to the next game, the next chance, is something Tarasenko learned during the St. Louis Blues' title run in 2019, and he has brought some of that mentality to the Florida Panthers as they aim to win the first championship in franchise history. One of a couple of trade deadline pickups acquired to bolster the roster for just this occasion, Tarasenko has scored four goals this playoffs and has taken on an important role in his short time with the club.

“He’s been incredible — just his energy, every day,” fellow forward Sam Bennett said. “He’s always smiling. He’s always in a good mood. His leadership has been crucial for us. He’s got that experience and a lot of guys look up to him, so he’s been incredible for especially the young guys. But, honestly, every guy in our locker room looks up to him. He’s been a big part of this.”

A big part of something the Panthers have been building for quite some time, starting with drafting center Aleksander Barkov and defenseman Aaron Ekblad and continuing by signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and trading for Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart. General manager Bill Zito getting Tarasenko from Ottawa in March was the final piece of the puzzle.

Before that, the only other Florida player with a Cup ring was Carter Verhaeghe who, coincidentally, won it all in the Edmonton bubble with Tampa Bay in 2020 — 15 months after Tarasenko and the Blues paraded through the streets of St. Louis.

“He’s won a Cup, but he has an appreciation,” coach Paul Maurice said. “These guys, as they get a little older, they have an appreciation for the game.”

The 32-year-old Tarasenko, who made his NHL debut in 2013, is old enough that Tkachuk grew up in St. Louis watching and admiring him. Tarasenko was one of Tkachuk's favorite players, too.

“It’s actually pretty crazy I’m on the same team with him right now,” Tkachuk said Friday. “When it’s all said and done, we’ll be looking back (at this) as one of the coolest moments for me: seeing him score a ton of big goals. … I’m sure my 12- or 15-year-old self would be completely starstruck with me having this opportunity right now to play with him.”

Tarasenko, having won the Cup before, said Thursday there's no message he needs to deliver to teammates. It all comes back to parking the previous game and focusing on the next one.

“Everybody realizes it’s important to move on,” Tarasenko said. “If you have a one-game-at-a-time mindset, it helps you.”

Maurice constantly hears Tarasenko and captain Barkov talking on the bench about hockey. Over the past few months, Tarasenko has started to do the same with Anton Lundell, taking on a mentoring role with the 22-year-old.

For all the big moments he has had a hand in, that is another reason why Tarasenko has been valuable for the Panthers.

“Anton’s got a whole lot of playoff experience, but he’s still a young player,” Maurice said. “Keeping him engaged, talking to him about the specifics about what happens on the ice, so there’s a leadership component to communication on the bench. He’s been very impactful in that way.”


AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL


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